Jonathan Wind is a policeman working in Atlanta, Georgia. He’s dating Monica, a strict Catholic girl, but has been seeing another girl on the side named Flora, a prostitute who practices a form of neo-paganism. When Flora mysteriously dies, Wind happens to be assigned to the case. Not willing to accept that her death was an accident, as the police department quickly concludes, he sets out on his own to investigate her death.
“’I am glad you are so fascinated, but what are you saying, that she spontaneously combusted?’ asked Wind’s partner, Detective Sergeant Ledbetter, as Wind was transfixed by the latex fingers moving like a rake in the sand of a Zen rock garden.”
Despite that summary, it would be a bit misleading to call And Wind Will Wash Away either strictly a mystery or a police procedural. While the story revolves around the mystery of Flora’s death, it isn’t the novel’s main driving force. It would be more accurate to call this book a philosophical novel with religion being the main focus of its ideas.
Two other novels came to mind when I read this. One was Norman Mailer’s Tough Guys Don’t Dance and the other William T. Vollmann’s The Royal Family (Rothacker thanks Vollmann in the acknowledgments, so I wasn’t off-track there). Both of those were also philosophical novels that had a mystery as the central story. At the end, I was reminded more of the latter than the former in both a good and bad way.
Anyone who’s interested in religion will probably get a lot out of this book. There are some fascinating exchanges between Wind and the various characters he meets regarding Christianity, neo-paganism, Buddhism, and the Aztec religion. While I’m hardly an expert on those subjects, I feel I have a rudimentary knowledge on at least some of them. To my knowledge, he gets the facts about them down very well. The chapter that discusses Buddhism is an especially well put together primer on the philosophy.
The problem with this is that it makes most of the dialogue come across as incredibly clunky. The exchanges between Wind and the other characters will go from sounding natural to sounding like lectures within the same pages. Had this been a novel with a simpler plot, I could have forgiven this.
Rothacker sets up an interesting mystery, but too often it feels pushed aside for didacticism. Some of the chapters seem to blow off the central story entirely for Wind to have discussions with characters who have no importance to the plot at all. To go back to the two novels I mentioned earlier, Mailer’s Tough Guys… occasionally went off on tangents that felt out of place, but would ultimately keep the mystery story on track. Vollmann’s The Royal Family had a thin central story, so when it would change its focus, it wasn’t too distracting. Rothacker, however, doesn’t quite manage to balance the story and ideas in either direction.
While occasionally overwrought, Rothacker’s novel does have some very beautiful, poetic prose.
“And when it all begins to drop, and the thread is snipped before reunion, and it all begins to tilt that way, through the flames, descending, and wind blows within all and around all and all that was and once will be and wind is there behind the way and all is swiftly turning burning, and the waters rise and all that is not lost is living in the beat of the flame and like the two as one, they are one flame and there is only one flame and wind is fueling the fire burning, yearning, and all that are dying know nothing, now nothing, and hope and then there is the end again and wind will wash away.”
Because of this, And Wind Will Wash Away remains highly readable despite all of its other problems.
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Rothacker's debut novel is a flawed but enjoyable one. It's plagued by clunky and didactic dialogue, and its attempts to discuss ideas often overwhelm an otherwise potentially entertaining story. However, it shows a lot of promise in its set up, its excellent prose, and its ability to convey ideas in an engaging manner. If you're interested in a novel about religions of various kinds, you may find this especially rewarding to read.
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